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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Four Recalls Today (all for lead) Plus a Graco Safety Notice

There are four recalls today - click through to the CPSC press release for more information if these look familiar:There's also been a "recall safety notice" from Graco for ComfortSport car seats manufactured between January 2, 2007, and July 31, 2007. The problem only occurs when the car seat is installed rear-facing using the LATCH system and can be corrected by the owner - check Graco's web site for instructions. Via Thrifty Mommy.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Safety Tips

Sarah from AT&T asked me to share these Halloween safety tips with you:
  • Program emergency contact numbers for nearby family and close friends to the speed-dial list on your and your children’s cell phones.
  • Have a family communications plan in place. Tell your kids to call home if they become separated from the group or if they ever feel scared or lost.
  • Capture/share the moment by using your camera or video phone feature to snap those funny, spur-of-the-moment photos or videos of your kids in their Halloween costumes.
  • Create a "Trick-or-Treat" patrol. Have a group of adults monitoring Halloween activities by posting people with wireless phones throughout the neighborhood. It's a great way to keep neighborhoods safe and builds camaraderie.
  • Make sure your wireless phone has a fully charged battery. That way, you can be assured the phone is working while out and around the neighborhood.
  • Raise the volume. With all the noise of a group, it can be hard to hear the phone ring, so be sure to put the volume on high and select a clearly audible ring tone.
  • Make sure kids can easily access their wireless phone. Costumes and candy can get cumbersome -- use a belt clip or other accessory that leaves hands free but keeps the phone within easy reach.
  • Establish a periodic check-in time. For older children who may venture out with less supervision, set a periodic check-in time to call or text home through the evening to ensure they are OK.
  • Keep a list of adults’ contact information. Trade phone numbers will all parents who are in your party, especially if you can’t physically be with your kids.
  • Be a Wireless Samaritan. If you see anything suspicious or out of place, call 9-1-1 or notify local law enforcement authorities.
  • Drive responsibly. Don’t let phone conversations be a distraction as you cruise the neighborhood.
By the way, Sarah said that Halloween is one of AT&T's heaviest wireless calling days each year, though she couldn't explain except to say that calls are generally heavier on holidays.

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Time to turn back your clocks and check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

On Saturday night (okay, technically Sunday morning), we'll abandon daylight savings time for a few months. But it's not just time to reset your clocks. This is also an excellent time to conduct a semi-annual check of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Dust them, replace the batteries, and press the test button to make sure they work. Check the FEMA web site for more information on smoke detectors (such as how many you should have - and yes, I suppose those are some fake questions). The CPSC has info on carbon monoxide detectors.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Potty Training Tip: Buy different kinds of underwear for home and school

I need time to catch up on my feed reader, so there won't be a reading list today. But I did want to share a tip for potty training, since Alex is pretty much there now. At home, we keep a close eye on him when he's in the bathroom, but it's harder for his preschool teachers, who have to make sure all 12 children in his class are okay. So he frequently gets some urine on his underwear and pants, and of course, I bring them home to wash. I know which clothes I've designated as "school clothes," so it's easy to take them back.

But I had a hard time remembering how much underwear he needed for school (I keep about six there) until I decided that his Go Diego Go underwear would be for school and his Elmo ones would be for home. Now when I do laundry, I separate the Diego and Elmo underwear and put the Diego ones in the pile of things to take to school on Monday.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

7 Recalls Today

Yes, that's seven recalls today. Click through to the CPSC press release if these look familiar:

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Do you "spend out"?

This post at The Happiness Project on "spending out" got me thinking today. Gretchen Rubin defines "spending out" as not hoarding, letting go, and giving. The key point is that "spending out" actually creates more of what was spent. She gives several examples.

First, she says her last pair of jeans started to fall apart so she bought two pairs of jeans but is only wearing one. She thinks this is bad: "Not wearing clothes is just as wasteful as throwing good clothes away." I have to disagree, unless she's never going to wear the second pair of jeans. I have a hard time finding comfortable shoes to wear to work. Several years ago, I found a Naturalizer pair that was perfect. I ordered 10 pairs and have been wearing them, one by one, until I was down to two last year - the one I was wearing and one in a box in the closet. Earlier this year, while I was on maternity leave, I got an email coupon for 30% off my entire purchase from Naturalizer, so I checked the styles online, saw that there several pairs I might like, and went to the store to try them on. I bought three pairs, but I've only worn one. I'm happy knowing that I have three pairs of comfortable shoes waiting for me when I've worn out my current pair. It saves me stress. It also saves me money, because I won't have to buy uncomfortable shoes to last me until I find comfortable ones. Am I hoarding? Well, yes. But in a good way, I think.

Gretchen's second example is about letting things go - not re-using razor blades too many times, tossing old clothes that are stained and faded, etc. She also applies spending out in this category to creativity - being willing to let it out instead of keeping it in for fear of running out. I have to agree with her more here. I have been known to hold on to worn-out or ill-fitting clothes for purely sentimental reasons - in fact, I have a little tank top from 10 years ago that I couldn't bring myself to donate a few weeks ago that I think I will now add to my Goodwill pile. Even if I weren't nursing, I wouldn't be comfortable wearing it around my kids - it's from my single days and doesn't fit my lifestyle anymore.

The third example is about not stinting on love and generosity. About not keeping score. I completely agree with her on this one. There is no point in holding back here. I'm pretty good about it with my immediate family - with Marc, Alex and Tyler. But I could do with some improvement outside my comfortable, tight-knit circle. I'll work on that. Because I believe that by spending out, I'll be making room for even more love and wonderful things into my life.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Recall Roundup

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Trick-or-treating alternatives for babies and toddlers

I don't see the point in taking my kids door-to-door on Halloween. We just don't live on a street where there are a lot of families, let alone where everyone is friendly and the kids all play together. Plus, it's not like our kids can walk all that far, being so little. But it's fun to dress the kids up, so we've come up with some ways to enjoy Halloween all the same:
  • As I've mentioned before, we celebrate each year with a Halloween party with my mom's group. It's a pot-luck, which makes it easier on the host, and a chance for us moms (and dads) to catch up.
  • Our local shopping mall has a trick-or-treat event in the early evening on Halloween. We took Alex last year and plan to take him back this year, since this gives his grandparents a chance to see him in action. I recommend going early, since some of the stores ran out of supplies within the first half-hour. The great thing about this is that there are stores that give out things beside candy - last year, the Apple store gave out key chains.
  • Reverse trick-or-treating. I got this idea from my friend Shanna, who took her son to her husband's office and handed out candy. It was a meet-and-greet for her husband's co-workers, some of whom had only heard about their son but not seen him. This would be especially wonderful to do if you know of a hospital or retirement home that would welcome your child.
  • Go to a friend's house. We did this for Alex's first Halloween, since a good friend lives on a street with lots of families. This is similar to the Halloween party idea, but on a smaller scale, and you (or your child) will be handing out candy to older trick-or-treaters.
Do you have any other suggestions?

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

What would you take with you in an emergency?

I don't know how big this story is nationally, but Southern California is ablaze with wildfires. Fortunately, they're not particularly close to us, though we can smell the smoke if we go outside. As I was watching the news earlier, one of the anchors mentioned that people were packing in case they were told to evacuate. And that got me thinking.

Marc and I are well-prepared for earthquakes. But you don't get a warning when an earthquake hits, so our preparation consists of well-stocked emergency bags that we can grab and run out the door with.

But what if we did have time to pack up a car load of stuff? What would we bring? I've been seriously thinking about it tonight. We may be safe from the current wildfires, but we're not immune.

I think I would pack up Marc's computer, because his has all of our family photos (we have backups on CDs, but they wouldn't include the last couple months). I would grab our fire-proof box, which contains copies of our marriage certificate, birth certificates, passports, etc. I'd also pack handy financial items like our checkbook.

But other than things like toiletries and clothes, I'm not sure what else would make it into our car. I'm going to think about it more and make a list, though. I don't want to have to make these kinds of decisions on the spot - I'm sure I'd forget something important.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Six tips for making dreaded calls to customer service a little easier

I hate calling customer service. But I do it anyway, because I hate not saving money even more. I've been doing it for years, and I've saved thousands of dollars because of it. In fact, today, I called my phone company to complain that I had switched plans after being told that my new plan would result in a lower bill, only to have my new bill be higher. I was prepared for a long call during which I would have to persuade the customer service rep to switch me back to our old plan without any fees, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. The CSR told me that there was some kind of proration that she could credit us for, and she cut the new bill by $10. It was a good reminder that even though I sometimes put these calls off because I dread making them, they almost always pay off.

Here are some ways that I make these calls easier on myself:
  1. Always have the necessary information in front of you. This includes the bill you're calling to question and your account number - basically, anything the CSR may ask for.

  2. Always have pen and paper at hand and take notes. I usually write directly on the bill or relevant paper if there is one. If there isn't, I write on a blank piece of paper and store it with the relevant records. Some people prefer to use a notebook. Do whatever works for you - just make sure you write down the date, the name of the CSR, and the important details of your conversation. It's okay to ask the CSR to speak more slowly or hold on a moment because you're writing things down (in fact, they may provide better service because they know you're documenting the call).

  3. Make sure you can find the paper you wrote on when you follow up. This actually goes along with tip #1. If you have to make a follow up call, it's best to have your notes from the previous call in front of you. That way you can start off by saying, "On September 6, I spoke to Mary, who said that I would save money by switching phone plans." This makes it clear to the CSR that you're on the ball, and it'll be easy to answer questions about what you were told the last time you called.

  4. Be polite. I've had the best results when I've stayed calm and polite, even if at the same time, I'm stomping my feet because I'm so frustrated. It helps to call when you're in a relatively good mood and not pressed for time. Which leads into the next tip . . .

  5. Do something else that's interrupt-able when you call. I hate being on hold, so I make sure that I'm doing something else that can be easily interrupted when I call. This can include going through posts on Google Reader, writing thank-you notes, or simply flipping through a magazine.

  6. If you do snap, apologize. I've done this when my frustration has gotten the best of me. I say something like, "I'm very sorry for speaking harshly. This is very frustrating and I'd really like to get this resolved." If appropriate, I mention the prior, ineffective calls that I made. This is also a good time to ask to speak to a supervisor.
Follow these tips and I think you'll find calling customer service a little less dreadful.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Babywearing tip: Pull out your maternity coat

Even though it's still warm during the day here in Southern California, it's now quite chilly at night and first thing in the morning. I usually pop Tyler into a mei tai so I can wear him and keep my hands free as we walk from the car to his day care. I found that bundling him up before putting him into the carrier made it difficult to get the straps really tight, so instead I pulled out my maternity coat, which is roomy enough for me to zip up over both of us. Now we both stay warm, cozy and secure. :D

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More recalls for lead (plus one for choking)

If you have any of these products, click through to the CPSC press release for information on how to proceed:

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How I'm paying off my student loans

This post is part of Get Rich Slowly's Group Writing Project.

A couple of months ago, I paid off my private student loans from law school, and did a little bit of math, which made me realize that my student loans were worth it. I consider this my biggest financial success because I actually had to work at it. I still have some Stafford loans left, but thought I would share how I paid off my private loans and am now paying off my Staffords.
  • I consolidated my Staffords when rates were low. The interest rate on my Staffords is pretty low at 4.575%. This makes it easier to pay off principal, since less interest accumulates each month.
  • I pay on time every month. I have always repaid my loans through automatic withdrawal from my bank account. Because I have a history of paying on time, my lender reduces the interest rate by 1% (which is reflected in the 4.575% above).
  • I pay more than the minimum. I have always asked my lender to withdraw more than the minimum each month, so that I pay extra toward the principal.
  • I increase my monthly payment regularly. Whenever I get a pay raise, or am able to adjust our budget so there's more money available (for example, if our insurance rates go down), I contact my lender to increase my automatic monthly payment.
  • I send in extra payments. I accumulate money from several sources - gifts, selling used items, this blog, savings, etc. When I have extra money, I send in extra payments. Most of the payment goes toward principal, thereby making a nice dent in my loan balance.
  • I make sure extra payments are applied to principal. Sometimes when you send in an extra payment, the lender simply "advances the due date." This means they apply the money to your next payment instead of applying the money to the accrued interest and principal. In fact, no matter what kind of note I attached to my check, my private loan lender studiously ignored their own official policy that said to include a note and always advanced the due date (and believe me, with the things I did, they had to read the note). I always had to call or email them to ensure that the extra payment was applied to the principal.
  • I paid off the higher interest loans first. My private loans had a higher interest rate so I paid them off first. In the long run, this will save me hundreds of dollars in interest.
  • I paid off the variable-interest loans first. A few years ago, my private loans actually had an interest rate that was slightly lower than the interest rate on my consolidated Staffords. But I knew that the rates wouldn't stay that low so I paid off as much as I could during that time. I was comfortable paying the minimum on my Staffords because I knew the low rate was locked in, while the rate on my private loans could escalate at any time. Rates did indeed rise, but I had less principal to pay off than I would have if I had focused on my Staffords.
  • I finally committed to being debt-free. I haven't carried a credit card balance in years, but for a while there, I didn't mind having student loan debt because it was "good debt". In the last few years, though, I've really committed to paying off my student loans and that's why I'm so close to making it happen.
According to my calculations, I will pay off my Stafford loans in slightly less than three years. I could pay them off in less than half that time, but we are currently aggressively adding to our savings account so we can pay cash for our new car next year (more about that decision later).

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Think outside the box to save money

In the last couple of days, I've come across two stories about thinking outside the box that I found very entertaining. The first is at Wise Bread, about a millionaire who took out a $5,000 loan.

The second is at Money Ning, about an old man with a son in prison.

The moral of both stories is that you can accomplish a lot by thinking unconventionally. This isn't something I'm gifted at doing, but I manage to come by some great ideas just the same. My two best tricks are:
  • Brainstorm. Just a few minutes of letting my brain do its thing without any restrictions or structure often leads to a surprising idea.
  • Use others' ideas. My friends often have good suggestions I wouldn't have thought of, and my favorite magazines often have fabulous tips. Of course, these days I also rely heavily on the internet - I get great ideas from the blogs and newsletters that I subscribe to.
What are your tips for coming up with great, unconventional ideas?

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Wow! Good customer service at a car dealership

Ever since the mechanic we used to go to had a nervous breakdown and closed up shop, we've taken our cars to the dealership to be serviced. We may not know a lot about cars, but Marc can see right through manipulative sales tactics (I'm more gullible) and the work is guaranteed, so we've been comfortable with the increased cost.

We've had a little bit of trouble with starting our Nissan Altima in the last week, so Marc took it in yesterday to be looked at. They couldn't find anything wrong with it, and get this: THEY DIDN'T CHARGE A DIAGNOSTIC FEE. It turns out they only charge a diagnostic fee (about $100) when they find a problem, and the fee is applied to the cost of the repair if you have the repair done at the dealership.

The experience has certainly increased my confidence in the dealership. And although I was thinking about finding a new mechanic to take care of our Honda Accord, I'm now leaning toward taking it back to the dealership (the Honda and Nissan dealerships in our area are owned by the same parent company). Who knew you could find good customer service at a car dealership?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

More Recalls from Tuesday Plus Forget Children's Cold Medicine

If you have any of these recalled products, click through to the CPSC press release for instructions on what to do next:Also, Johnson & Johnson has withdrawn the following children's cold medicines because of "instances of misuse leading to overdose, particularly in infants under two years of age": Concentrated Infants' Tylenol Drops plus Cold; Concentrated Infants' Tylenol Drops plus Cold & Cough; Pediacare Infant Drops Decongestant (PSE); Pediacare Infant Drops Decongestant & Cough (PSE); Pediacare Infant Dropper Decongestant (PE); Pediacare Infant Dropper Long-acting Cough; and Pediacare Infant Dropper Decongestant & Cough (PE). Click here for the official press release. Keep in mind that you should never give cold or cough products to children under age 2 and that such medicine isn't very effective anyway and that the best thing to do is call the pediatrician. (Hat tip: The Consumerist.)

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Six Toy Recalls Issued Yesterday

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Being an active school parent can get expensive! (A few ways to keep costs down)

The daycare that Alex and Tyler attend is a nonprofit center that includes a preschool, so we plan to be associated with it for another five years. There are many ways to get involved in the school, but it can get expensive. Here are some of the ways I minimize our out-of-pocket expenses while still being an active parent:
  • Volunteer in class. The teachers at our school welcome parents who want to read a story, play an instrument and sing songs, or even whip up some ice cream with an ice cream maker.
  • Contribute supplies. Keep an eye on the class calendar and see if there are any activities coming up that you have supplies on hand for. For example, I noticed that Alex's class was making felt books, and I just happened to have some extra squares of flannel left over from a long-abandoned project. I took them in for his teachers to use and they used them today to make houses.
  • Show your appreciation to the teachers. The boys' school actually has a group of parents who coordinate "Teacher Appreciation Week" once a year. Each day of the week, the teachers are treated to coffee, cookies, fruit, etc. Each teacher also gets a basket made up of donated items, such as gift cards, pens, stickers, etc. Since I like to keep the love going year-round, every Monday, I bring in a tub of cookies or another similar treat. Homemade treats are much appreciated and less expensive, although lately I've taken to buying cookies from Trader Joe's for about $3 per container.
  • Fund-raising events. The most expensive activity I've gotten involved in is fund-raising events. The money raised is important for the school, since it's used to improve the physical environment (for example, last year, the school got a whole new playground). I say this is the most expensive activity for me, however, because I don't get reimbursed for things like stamps to send out letters soliciting donations or for items sold at silent auction or raffled off as prizes. The key to minimizing these expenses is to keep detailed records and get a receipt for any expenses so they can be deducted as charitable donations.* I'm also on the lookout for the best deals on auction and raffle prizes. Now that I've been involved for two years, I have a pretty good idea of what can be used, and I'll be sending away for any appropriate freebies. Thus, in the coming school year, I should be able to donate a substantial amount at a minimal cost to myself.
*Donations to all schools may not be deductible, so check with your tax professional before donating or taking any deductions.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Discussing your finances with your spouse (instead of fighting)

The September issue of American Baby had an article called "Why You Fight Over Finances," which discussed several different causes of money fights (and stereotypes financial roles, e.g., assuming that the woman "love[s] buying baby things" and the man gets upset about "another $10" - but that's a post for another day).

The gist of the article can be boiled down to one simple, universal solution: Be honest with your partner about what's really bothering you. Are you worried about the future - like paying for college? Are you having trouble adjusting to the fact that you (or your spouse) is no longer bringing home a paycheck? Do you still agree on your financial priorities?

Recommending honest discussions is a lot easier said than done, of course. Before you get into another fight, take the initiative and apologize for making your partner feel bad, emphasize that you want to resolve your financial disagreements, and agree to have a respectful discussion about the family finances. Agree in advance that if things start getting heated again, either one of you can utter a code word (timeout, stormtrooper, or whatever works) and you'll resume the discussion when you've calmed down again. If you can discuss the issues with respect for each other, no matter how long it takes, then your marriage has a good chance of coming out stronger instead of weaker.

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Professional Tips for Photographing Your Child

Last week included class photo day for my boys, and for the first time, I was told that Alex happily posed for the camera - so I'm really looking forward to getting those shots back. Babycenter offers these tips for getting the "money shot" of your kids on film or disk:
  1. Cut the cheese
  2. Quantity begets quality (this has definitely been true for us)
  3. Get real
  4. Let the sun shine
  5. Know when to say when
  6. Make time for fun
  7. Don't forget the milestones
And for the most natural-looking shots, they offer a few more tips:
  1. Turn off your flash
  2. Don't expect all eyes on you
  3. Get down on your child's level
  4. Shift the emphasis
  5. Allow for freedom of movement
  6. Skip the retouching
  7. Look at the background

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Surprisingly Toddler-Friendly: The Getty Center and the Getty Villa

I don't know about your toddler, but mine is happy to have a new place to explore. That means lots of space and lots of walking. Challenging climbs? Even better. What my toddler doesn't care about is kids' activities - crafts and such hold his attention for about two seconds.

So we recently headed out to the Getty Center thinking that Alex would enjoy the gardens and stairs, and we were right. Even on a Saturday afternoon, with a packed parking lot, there was plenty of room for him to explore. He enjoyed the ride up to the museum in the unmanned tram, the expansive city views from the top of the mountain, and the zig zag garden with its winding paths. He happily wore himself out going up and down different sets of stairs. He even made faces at me through the distortion lenses in the Family Room, though he breezed past the art coves where kids can create their own masterpieces.

Since the Getty Center was such a huge hit, we headed out to the Getty Villa in Malibu (just north of where Sunset meets PCH). Again, there were plenty of stairs and a huge area to explore. Alex actually whined whenever we entered an exhibition, but was perfectly happy when we were outside. The Family Forum contains a couple of kids' activities but none that held Alex's interest for long (you can decorate some vases with erasable ink and put on a shadow play). I loved the herb gardens, with their edible plants and fruit trees - I even saw a gardener walk past holding two radishes he'd just plucked out of the earth. Alex's favorite part was climbing the seats in the open-air amphitheater.

Unlike when it opened several years ago, the Getty Center no longer requires any reservations. But you'll have to reserve tickets ahead of time for the Getty Villa. Parking at each facility is $8. Both facilities are completely handicap accessible, which means there are ramps everywhere for strollers. However, we've found that it's easier if Marc wears a backpack and I pop Tyler into a mei tai so that we can all go up and down the stairs together.

Cross-posted at CFO Reviews.

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Deciding which car to buy: sedan, minivan or wagon?

As I've mentioned before, Marc and I will be buying a new car in the next year or two. But we can't decide what that car should be.

Size and space are major - perhaps controlling - issues. We currently have two sedans that fit into our two-car garage without leaving much room around the sides, in front or in back. So we can't buy a new vehicle that's significantly bigger than the one we're replacing (4-door Honda Accord). At the same time, we'd love to have more interior and trunk space. With two car seats in the back seat, there's no room for someone to squeeze between them. It would be really nice to be able to go somewhere with our parents and not need a second car. Is it possible to find a seven or eight-seater that still fits in our garage?

Another consideration is fuel economy, particularly with the rising cost of gas. When I met Marc nearly 10 years ago, $1.50 per gallon was high. Earlier this year, we were paying almost $4.00 per gallon. Considering we live in Southern California, we actually don't drive that much. But I can imagine a few road trips in our near future, even if it's just down to San Diego, and I definitely don't want to pay $100 for gas each way.

Reliability is a huge issue for us since neither of us is knowledgeable about cars. Because of this, we gravitate toward Japanese cars with high resale values. But it really limits our choices when it comes to wagons, since most stylish wagons are made by non-Japanese companies or smaller Japanese companies who aren't known for their resale value (like Subaru, which makes the Forester). If we eliminate wagons from consideration, we're left with just sedans and minivans.

Now, everyone I know who owns a minivan loves it. But we're pretty hesitant. There's the fitting-into-the-garage issue I mentioned earlier. And there's also looks - which, I freely admit, are important to us. We want our car to be stylish, and minivans don't really fit that description. Although this may be one of those times when we sacrifice looks for practicality.

But then there's cost. And it's easy to find quality sedans that cost less than, say, the Toyota Sienna, which my friends have raved about. Our budget for the purchase is about $25,000 (I say "about" because we'd be willing to pay another thousand or so for a car that has all of the features we want). However, before we make a final decision, I'll be contacting our insurance agent and pricing out the increase in our policy based on the cars we're considering, and also checking out the True Cost to Own calculator at Edmunds.com to estimate the costs of maintenance and repair.

Finally, our new car must have two features: air conditioning and a V-6 engine. These features make driving around LA a much more pleasant experience than it would be otherwise.

It's worth noting that we aren't interested in any fancy packages. A built-in DVD player isn't even high on the list (we have our iPod and a portable DVD player as well should we ever feel we need it). This certainly saved us a lot of money when we bought our Nissan Altima - hopefully it will also save us money this time.

Right now, I honestly have no idea what we'll end up getting. I think we are kind of hoping that between now and buying time, we will come across a car that meets all of our wants and needs and, most importantly, our budget. I'll write soon about how we're planning to pay for the car.

In the meantime, do you have any suggestions on what car to buy?

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Your options when your local public school isn't a real option

I've mentioned previously that Marc and I have decided to send our boys to private school when they reach kindergarten age, in large part because we feel they won't get as good an education. If you aren't satisfied with your local public school, you may want to consider the following alternatives:
  • Moving or Relocating. This is a pretty drastic measure, but one that many families have taken throughout the years. In fact, I have a couple of friends who've moved to the supremely expensive Palos Verdes area on the theory that they will invest their money in a house instead of paying for private school. For us, moving is too high a price to pay because our commuting time would triple and we'd be moving away from family, and that's assuming we'd stay in the LA area. I've already explained why we won't move out of LA.
  • Magnet schools. I'm not sure if that term is specific to Los Angeles or California schools, but magnet schools are public schools for children who are gifted and talented. I looked into this, but the nearest magnet to us doesn't start until first grade, and magnet schools for higher grades are a pretty good distance from our house. Also, there's no guarantee our children will get in, or that their friends will continue on to the same school as they get older.
  • Public school exemption. Some of the public schools in our area have a better reputation than the one that's a few blocks from our house. I looked into getting an exemption for the boys to attend one of these schools, but we wouldn't find out that we had gotten the exemption until a month before school starts. And again, the boys would have to make new friends when they enter middle school.
  • Homeschooling. I don't think I'm up to the challenge of homeschooling, and I think there's a lot to be gained from the social aspects of attending school. But I'd be remiss if I didn't point this out as a legitimate choice.
  • Private school. I've listed this last simply because it's the most expensive option out there. There are a wide range of tuition prices, though, so it could very well cost less than a full-time daycare or preschool.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Review: Nature Valley Roasted Nut Crunch

I was pretty happy when a PR firm I just started working with asked me to review a couple of boxes of Nature Valley's new product, Roasted Nut Crunch bars, in peanut and almond varieties. I buy and eat Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey granola barsall the time, but I don't like nuts that much so I wouldn't have bought these without having tried them first but I was definitely curious. Guess what? They're good!

They're definitely on the salty side, so part of me wishes they included chocolate chips or better yet, were dipped in chocolate. But that would obviously have a negative impact on the nutritional information, which is pretty good for a tasty snack. Each peanut bar has 190 calories, 12 grams of fat (1.5 grams saturated, 0.5 grams polyunsaturated, and 10 grams monounsaturated), 180 mg of sodium, 2 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein. The ingredient list is pleasantly short: peanuts, sunflower seeds, sugar, corn syrup, salt, and almond flour. No trans fats in sight - but Marc didn't like the stickiness that I assume is a result of the corn syrup.

If you prefer larger snacks, I would recommend eating an apple or other fruit or having a glass of milk with the bar, since it's not big. But if you take your time eating, which is easy to do since there are large pieces of nuts, I think you'll find that this is a satisfying snack by itself. I particularly like that it's the kind of snack that will keep well in my diaper bag and in the car, so it's great for when I'm out and about. The suggested retail price is $3.39 for a box of six bars, but I'm betting you can find it for less at discount stores like Target.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

It's Recall Time Again

Well, I've definitely reached the point of not allowing Tyler to put anything painted in his mouth. There were seven recalls in the CPSC email I got today, so I'm just going to post a picture and link to the press release, which will tell you what to do if you happen to own any of the following cursed toys:
  1. KB Toys Recalls Wooden Toys Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

  2. Kids II Recalls Baby Einstein Color Blocks Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

  3. Eveready Battery Co. Recalls Toy Flashlights Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

  4. Dollar General Recalls Tumblers Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

  5. CKI Recalls Children’s Decorating Sets Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard; Sold Exclusively at Toys "R" Us



  6. Key Chains Recalled by Dollar General Due to Risk of Lead Exposure


  7. Antioch Publishing Recalls Bookmarks and Journals Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard



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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What we're giving up for private school and why

I've mentioned before that we'll be sending the boys to private school when they reach kindergarten age, and I'm a little hesitant to talk about this because you, my valued readers, may very well think less of me for it given the high cost. However, you should know that this wasn't a decision we made lightly - we thought long and hard about paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 per year per child if they go to one of the top schools. (The figure goes up to $35,000 for seventh grade and up. No, that's not a typo.)

We considered other options (and I'll write about them separately), but it comes down to safety and academics. While we (thankfully) don't live in a gang-infested neighborhood, we do not live in a gang-free area (is there such a place in LA these days?). And the more distance we can put between our children and gang members the better (without actually moving to a new house - more on that in a forthcoming post also).

Equally important as safety, our local public schools at best have a mediocre academic reputation, while the top private schools send their graduates to the nation's top colleges. Because Marc and I both received first-class private school educations and attended highly ranked universities, giving our children the same opportunities is a top priority. And I freely admit that comfort level plays a role in our decision - because it is what we know, we think we'll be more comfortable in a private school environment. And our comfort level will be a huge factor in our children's comfort level . . . even if the other children's parents make ten times more than we do.

And speaking of money - yes, we can afford this while still saving enough for retirement, but barely. Obviously, we would have a more comfortable retirement if we directed the tuition money into retirement accounts instead, but according to my calculations, we'll manage to save enough. In addition to a more cushy retirement, we'll also be giving up things like a bigger house, vacations, and college savings. Marc and I agreed that paying for college was less of a priority than paying for private school, since there are alternatives for college tuition, like state universities, merit and athletic scholarships, etc. We also agreed that what the boys learn academically and socially during their childhood is much more important than which college they end up attending.

Incidentally, whether our children would attend private or public school is a conversation Marc and I started having before Alex was even conceived. This helped tremendously with our financial planning - I'll also discuss this in more detail in the future, but for now it's enough to say that a big part of how we will be able to pay for private school is because we have planned ahead.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An Assortment of Halloween Links

To get you ready for Halloween, here are some assorted Halloween links:Finally, my own little tip for baby costumes: PAJAMAS. I read this tip somewhere when Alex was a baby, but after I'd already bought him a Superman costume (which Tyler will be wearing this year). Last year, I bought Superman pajamas, and they were more comfortable and just as cute as a real costume (complete with cape), not to mention $7 cheaper. Now that Alex is old enough to prefer Spiderman to Superman, I picked up $12.99 Spiderman pajamas for him to wear this year. They have webbing at the arms, which makes them costume-like, and we won't have to worry about a mask that he won't want to wear anyway. Plus they'll be comfortable and without the silly puffy chest that's become ubiquitous in boys' costumes.

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